Sunday, April 25, 2010

Amazing Sam

This has been an exciting week. My supervisor asked me to put together a picture video of the work we (me and my coworkers) are doing with NIKKI. She wants to share it at the end of the school year luncheon that she attends with her boss and other administrative folks. I am so happy that I can showcase some of the cool things that NIKKI and some of the p4p dogs are doing in our school system. I spent all last Sunday putting it together and with the help of Amy it is coming together nicely. The video shows her work as a rehabilitative and educational assistance dog. I am hoping that I will be able to post it on the p4p youtube site. (I am verifying all my parental permissions!) And maybe I can put one of those "links" on this blog like Kyria and Karen do on their blogs.

I needed a few more pictures of Sam. Sam is the boy who has gained playground skills because of his work with NIKKI. (See some of my previous blogs for more on Sam.) I wanted to get some pictures depicting all that he can do now. So his therapist, Nancy, and I went back out to capture the things that NIKKI helped Sam do - like:

Stepping up.... and:

Stepping down...and:

Sliding down the slide.

Sam slides down the slide so well by himself now that we had a hard time capturing Sam using NIKKI's leash to do this. But the best part was when we went to the bus steps to capture how much Sam has improved going up and down steps. As you may recall from previous blogs, Sam holds one of NIKKI's treats in his hand so that he will only use one hand on the rail. Nancy usually stands at the bottom of the steps verbally giving some encouragement as NIKKI sits beside her waiting for her treat. But again we wanted to capture this for the video so I handed Sam the treat and positioned NIKKI. Nancy was working the camera and as she was getting it ready Sam went up and down the bus steps - like right now...with no verbal prompting! Nancy and I were so excited! He just went up and down - no problem. NIKKI was the only one who seemed to have the complete confidence that he could do this. (I am sure it had something to do with the treat in his hand!) And then - even better - he repeated it so we could get these pictures:

I know these pictures look like any other kid going up and down the bus steps but this was truly hard for Sam. The coolest thing about this is that Sam does not practice this skill everyday - he does not ride the bus to and from school as his mom is a teacher at his school. So practicing this with NIKKI is the key to his success!

One more funny story about NIKKI. As some of you know I have another dog and a cat. The older dog has never bothered the cat food that I keep in the laundry room. It is not that he doesn't want to eat the food - its because he is a little freaked out about walking on the tile floor in the laundry room. When I got NIKKI in June 2008, Terry told me that NIKKI was highly food motivated and that I would need to block off the room. So I put a baby gate on the laundry room doorway. Over time we all got slack on putting up the gate. Eventually, we took the gate away completely. NIKKI never bothered the cat food. After NIKKI's diagnosis of seizures and starting on medication, I brought the gate back out as one of the side effects of the medicine is increase in appetite. This side effect did not seem to be any worse then usual for NIKKI so I've kept the gate but was getting a little slack with putting it up. Well, I am not sure what happen last Friday but she decided that it was time to eat the cat food! I am sitting in my kitchen and I hear this strange noise. Initially I ignored it. But it persisted so I started looking for its source...there she was chowing down on the cat food! I mean chowing down! Later that day the cat came in, meowed and looked at me as if to say "someone has been eating my food." Lesson learned - the gate is up - sorry kitty!
Have a good week!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Super Smart Dog

Words can hardly describe yesterday. NIKKI returned to the classroom after a long and relaxing spring break. My coworker and friend Amy planned an activity called "NIKKI Goes to School". We were visiting with a group of middle school intellectually disabled students. This is a challenging class as some of the students don't speak English, some are nonverbal and a few are just afraid of dogs. Amy - who plans most of NIKKI's academic activities - always finds a way to allow each student to participate in the activity at their own level. For example, for the nonverbal student she provides an augmentative communication device so the student can express - via the device - his thoughts and answer questions. For the 2 young men afraid we separate them from the area where we work with NIKKI but they are still present in the classroom and can hear what is going on. So let me get on with the story.....As soon as we walked in we were greeted by a sweet girl who does not usually speak and if she does speak it maybe in Spanish. She was obviously excited to see NIKKI and Amy asked her "Who is this" and she said "NIKKI"!!! Not only did she speak, she answered a question posed to her in English!! That is huge! Next we encountered one of NIKKI's biggest fans....Mikayla. Mikayla is usually very chatty and we sometimes need to pry her off of NIKKI but today she was much more subdued. (More on Mikayla later.) Amy started the activity of NIKKI going to school. We wanted to showcase some of NIKKI's tricks so we started NIKKI's school day off with a "moment of mediation". We knew we couldn't have NIKKI "say her prayers" in a public school so we went with the moment of mediation so NIKKI could do her trick of "saying her prayers"! Next was reading class. The students helped hold NIKKI's reading cards and NIKKI "read" for them. This is always impressive - even if she sometimes needs to "guess". Next, NIKKI went to Math class and we asked the students to help NIKKI do her math assignments. We had several word problems - like NIKKI had 5 bones and ate 2 how many does she have left. The students did the math on the board with the help of their teacher. Next was PE class....NIKKI chased her tail (turn), retrieved the ball, and went for a walk. After PE she needed some water so one of the students got her some water and then everyone had the opportunity to feed her "lunch". So you get the idea. The kids are engaged and interacting with NIKKI but also doing some learning. Now the cool part....The whole time Mikayla is sitting at her desk drawing a picture of a huge dog and a very small person (she said it was me and NIKKI). She was paying attention but not interacting like normal. Amy starts asking some questions about what NIKKI did at school and Mikayla blurts out "NIKKI is one super smart dog"! And the boy in the back of the room who was afraid to be near NIKKI - he was answering everyone of Amy's questions! Eventually Mikayla came around to NIKKI and laid her head on NIKKI's side and curled up into the fetal position and became totally relaxed. The teacher told us that Mikayla's mom has been diagnosed with cancer and Mikayla is very upset about it. On this day she just needed NIKKI to help soothe her. It was truly beautiful.

We allowed Mikayla to lay with NIKKI for a long time. As this was happening, the nonverbal student using the augmentative device in the back of the room started hitting the buttons on his device to let us know he wanted to talk about NIKKI. He answered several questions that the teacher assistant asked of him!! And finally the verbal student interacting from the back of the classroom because he was afraid....well let me just let his picture tell his story!

This was one of those days that makes all this worthwhile. We touched so many in such different ways. Amy said to me today that as she was reflecting on her day yesterday that she realized that what an impact that NIKKI can have on these students. It is awesome to be a part of this. I just wish I could be in more classrooms with NIKKI. Mikayla is right- NIKKI is one super smart dog!